By Katie Chambers
Please join us in welcoming Ifeyinwa Arinze to NYWIFT! Ifeyinwa is a neuroscientist-turned-filmmaker from Nigeria and is currently based in New York City. Her work draws inspiration from human behavior and prioritizes intimate portrayals of Black women and girls that are grounded in generosity and care. Her short film, Two or More, premiered at the 2022 New York African Film Festival and has screened at the 2022 Palm Springs International ShortFest, 2022 Bushwick Film Festival and 2022 TIDE Film Festival, where she received the 2022 NYWIFT Outstanding Woman Content Creator Award.
Ifeyinwa is a 2022 recipient of The NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre, a 2021 BAFTA New York Scholar, and the inaugural recipient of the 2021 Hayden5 x Video Consortium Gear Grant. She received her BA from Mount Holyoke College and is currently an MFA candidate in the Graduate Film program at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
Ifeyinwa spoke to us about why the TIDE Film Festival is special to her, her transition from STEM to the arts, and the inspirations behind her work.
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
Hi! I’m a neuroscientist-turned-filmmaker from Nigeria, currently based in New York. I love using film to center the perspectives of Black women and girls through a lens of generosity and care.
Congratulations on receiving the NYWIFT Outstanding Woman Content Creator Award at the 2022 TIDE Film Festival! What did inclusion in TIDE mean to you?
Thank you! It was quite an unexpected and deep honor. Attending TIDE surpassed all my expectations. I was so moved by the warmth and care that welcomed me from the minute I arrived. It was also very special to be in a space that centered and celebrated POC filmmakers in word and in deed. We were fed at almost every event! It’s a rare occurrence at festivals!!
What inspired your winning short film, Two or More?
The seed of it was from witnessing a family member’s death as a child after I had prayed for their healing. That experience rattled the foundations of my faith. A few years ago, it bobbed around in my consciousness and I wondered what it would look like, in a fictionalized version, if space had been made for a child like me to voice that doubt.
You’re a neuroscientist-turned-filmmaker – wow! Talk about a big shift. What inspired you to move from science into filmmaking? And how does your STEM background inform your creative work?
Filmmaking is storytelling, and my interest in stories began at a very young age. I read voraciously growing up, but I never had a concrete creative outlet. Looking back, I believe I was storing up all those inspirations for the moment when I had the right tools. That moment came in my sophomore year of college. I discovered photography and that exposed me to visual storytelling. It was refreshing and intoxicating. Eventually, I began to yearn to do more with visuals. Film became a natural evolution for me.
Re: STEM influence, it’s more subtle than one would imagine. A few years ago, during a critique session, a directing professor commented on my work saying that he could see that I was “drawn to the behavior of my characters.” I felt so seen and in that moment the dots connected for me – that my interest in how we behave as humans, which is what drew me to neuroscience, shows up in how I write my characters and direct my actors.
You have noted that your work “draws inspiration from human behavior and prioritizes intimate portrayals of Black women and girls that are grounded in generosity and care.” How do you hope to break barriers and change perceptions as a filmmaker?
That’s a tall order that I don’t keep at the forefront of my mind. It can cripple creativity to consciously carry such a responsibility. I just hope to keep showing up and making work that feels honest to me; work that validates the experiences of those who rarely see themselves on screen in a way that is tender and generous. Through those efforts, I hope my work brings into existence something that is bigger than myself.
What kind of work excites and inspires you?
Anything that expands my sense of possibility and introduces me to new ways of seeing things. From Tatiana Huezo’s Prayers for the Stolen to Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman to Danielle McKinney’s paintings.
What is the best advice you ever received?
“Stay focused on the work.” The rejections will come and go, the adrenaline rush of the accolades will fade, things will not unfold as planned. But the work? It will keep you humble. It will keep you grounded. It will keep you honest. Some days will be harder than others, but the work will always be there, waiting for you to return to it.
And what is next for you?
I’m currently developing a character-driven documentary about the experiences & mental health of three Black women navigating doctoral programs in the U.S. and where they go to be soft. So I’m curious to see where it takes me.
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